Rev. Barbara Briggs Message

 Holy Trinity Episcopal Church Stewardship message
delivered by Rev Barbara Briggs on 11-11-2012 

You are here because you are the leaders at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Enfield. I am here because you invited me to come talk to you about your leadership. More than you may realize, you lead by example. It is because of you that this parish continues to grow—because of you and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  You have dedicated untold time and energy as you have deployed your various gifts for the building up of the body of Christ in this place, and this work is never done. It is both gratifying and tiring, life-giving and challenging. There never seems to be a point when you can sit down and say to each other, “Well done, good and faithful servant, you can just coast along, now and let things just run themselves. You’ve done enough.” Instead we hear in Matthew’s Gospel when the master returns to collect the talents he had given to the slaves who had invested them: “Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.”

The more we receive, the more we have to offer. You are here tonight because you have been given so much and have given so much. For this the church is very thankful. So, before we go any further, thank-you. Thank-you for all you are and all you do. You are God’s beloved children, precious, and honored and loved. It is through you that others catch a glimpse of God’s love at work in and through you as you go about your daily lives. You can’t see it in yourself as well as others can see it in you. As you let yourself open up to God’s love being poured out for you all day long, they see it. They see it in the little things—how you serve one another when in need, visit one another, prepare food, engage in various forms of outreach, pray, listen to one another, teach, take time to help.

If it weren’t for you, people wouldn’t be able to get to know Jesus. Amazingly, you are as Christ to each other and to the world when you let the Holy Spirit work through you and when you use the gifts God is pouring out upon you every day. This is the never-ending work of the Holy Spirit in you, amongst you; for you, for the world, for God’s glory. God keeps on pouring out all this goodness so that you may know God, love God and serve God more and more all your days. As God does this, you can’t help but say, “Thank-you, Jesus, for You, thank-you for loving me so much that you gave me yourself and invited me to be with you for the rest of my life. Thank-you for helping me grow closer to you everyday by teaching me how to follow you and serve you and love you with all that I have and all that I am.”

When you live such a life of letting God love you, (because that is all that God wants to do and all that God can do and is what God is up to day in and day out—trying to get you let God love you the way God wants to love you—as you are and not as the person you want to be or think you should be, but as the person God sees in all truth—the amazingly wonderful person you are, who is not perfect, but who is loved perfectly by God), when you let God love you that way, you become the sacrament of God’s love poured out all day long for your good and the good of the world. People see that and they become hopeful in your presence. They want to know your secret. They want what you have—that certain joy and peace that comes from the indwelling presence of Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit.

Do you know what is the surest sign that God is present in someone’s life? Gratitude. Cultivate gratitude and you will cultivate a sense of God’s indwelling presence.

We give to the church because we participate in this life of gratitude. We give because we have tasted the joy of being invited by God to share God’s life of love outpoured for others. We are here tonight because we have tasted the joy and gratitude that comes from giving our best for God, and it has urged us onward toward a deeper joy, a deeper gratitude and a deeper trust in and commitment to God. We give because we need to give in order to grow closer to God. We give because we need to give in order to get our relationship with God and money straight. We need to be clear about to whom do we look for our security: to God or to our bank account?

2Cor 9:6-8

“The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work.” 

So the first point about giving money is twofold. It answers the question, WHY GIVE?

     Giving is based on the need of the giver to give, not on the need of the institution to receive. It’s not about paying the bills. Whether we balance our budgets is of little importance compared to the importance of our getting our lives balanced with God. We give because we need to give in order not to be stuck on our stuff. We give so that we can see the world as co-creators with God rather than as victims of scarcity. We give so we can have power over our money rather than letting it have power over us.

     We give because it makes us happy. We give because we have tasted the joy that comes from knowing God’s love. We give because we are so thankful that we just have to let our thanks spill out beyond ourselves. It is not fundraising—that belongs in the United Way—it is thank-offering, and that belongs in the church. We give because we are grateful and giving makes us joyful—joyful with the joy of the Lord—joyful that we are being included in this wonderful work of reconciliation and restoration of all people with God and each other.

The second point about giving answers the question HOW MUCH? How much should I give?

When I was sixteen, I remember sitting on the floor of my bedroom in my parents’ house when I realized for the first time that Jesus had given everything for me. Everything. Nothing held back. It was a very matter-of-fact realization that was followed by logical question: “Well, if Jesus gave everything for me, with nothing held back, what should I give in return?” The calculation seemed much easier to me at the time—much simpler and less complicated if I said, “all of me”, than if I tried to figure out which proportion of me I could keep for me and which proportion I should give to God. At the time, this meant everything, including my money, which wasn’t much, since at that age, I had only worked for a few months in the summer. A few minutes later I remember thinking that I was only sixteen, and that I had some time to figure it all out. So, from that time forth, everything I did had a purpose: to discover the will of God and to let everything I did be for God.

Fast forward ten years or so.  I decided to enter a convent. I sold or gave away everything I owned and lived the three-fold vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, having no personal property and sharing everything with my sisters in community. Prayer and service were at the heart of our life. Money was easy: I didn’t have any. If I needed clothes or food, the community pooled its resources and bought it. Whatever the sisters earned at their various jobs went into a common pot. I thought I had arrived at the pinnacle of giving. I had given my all to Jesus in return for his gift of himself. What I was to discover was that even though the beginning of this life was full of grace and joy, it wasn’t enough to sustain the ensuing years, for God is always inviting us to come closer and to grow more deeply in trust. I had to give away a lot more before I was through, and as I discovered the true meaning of the vow of poverty—an attitude of gratefully receiving whatever life threw my way, knowing that God is loving me in and through it no matter what, and that God is in charge, not me, I discovered moments of great joy and intimacy with GOD in silent prayer and in reading the Scriptures.

And still, God was not through asking me to give. For God asked me to give away my beloved community in order to come serve God as a priest. I had to leave my community in order to be ordained. When I left, I had to earn my own money again and learn how much to give on a small income. And here, again, it was easier to follow the advice of General Convention and the Bible than to figure out what logic I would use to justify a lesser amount. Both the Bible and the General Convention of the Episcopal Church set the tithe as the minimum standard of giving. Ten percent of my income. So, that was easy. I would have to figure out how to live on the rest. At first I didn’t eat or go out much or buy any non-essentials at all. Then I realized I could afford more than I thought. I was single. I kept the thermostat at 60 and wore sweaters in the winter. I turned off all the lights except the one I was using. In 2001 my monthly electric bill for a two-bedroom duplex was $19. Slowly, I learned how to be smart with my money and generous with myself, too. It took time and patience, prayer and realism and a sense of humor.

So, the second point about giving answers the question HOW MUCH. The minimum standard of giving is ten percent. Ten percent of gross or net, before tax or after, it doesn’t matter: you decide. Some people need to give more. They have been so blessed that ten percent is simply not satisfying to them. They need to put a greater percentage of their income to use outside of themselves for the greater good. They have received much and they need to be responsible in much. Some people give 50% as their minimum standard of giving in their lifetime. An example of this is the giving pledge. Bill Gates, along with wife Melinda and multi-billionaire Warren Buffet, have been encouraging other wealthy Americans to give to philanthropic causes, founding the giving pledge where they can publicly commit to giving away half their net worth in their life-time. So far, Bill Gates, Paul Allen, Warren Buffet, Barron Hilton, George Lucas, David Rockefeller, Ted Turner and Mark Zuckerberg have signed on.

The point is this: you will know if what you decide to give is too little—joy will elude you and giving will feel like a chore or a bore—another annoying duty to be fulfilled in order to save face and do the right thing. To avoid falling into this chore or bore category of giving, we have to challenge ourselves and come back to that place of gratitude—that place where we can imagine God saying to us, “You are honored, and precious, and I love you. Here is what that conversation might sound like:

“You, come and follow me. I need you. I need the whole of your person—all you are and all you have. I need you so that others can know my love. They need my love so much. They need to know how much I love them. Come on. I want you to help me show them. Trust me. I will not stop loving you and helping you every step of the way. I will help you decide what percentage of your income is right. I will help you grow through giving and not sell yourself short with the easy way out, like year-end left-overs, or surpluses. No, you are far more valuable to me than that. I need you to decide what percentage of your income you want to give me before you spend any of it on anything else. Give to me first, and I will bless you in the rest—with love and peace and joy—you will see, but you have to trust me. I am not letting you off easy because I know you and I have such hope in our future together.”

The third and last point about giving answers the question, TO WHOM SHALL WE GIVE?

There are lots of good causes out there, lots of needs, and there are lots of people who will give to those causes. You are the only ones who can give to Holy Trinity and make this a place of renewal for Jesus’ disciples—a community of disciples who are discovering more and more with every passing day how deeply, passionately, gently, powerfully and wonderfully they are loved by God. You are the only ones who can make sure that your gifts shared out will make Jesus more visible in the world and more real to yourselves. By doing so, you will heap unknown blessings upon others and yourselves. God will use this congregation to reveal Jesus Christ in the world for your joy and theirs. It doesn’t get better than that! AMEN.